As the faithful begin to gather in Rome for the canonization Mass of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II, I can’t help but wonder when the Church is going to canonize two other popes who are most assuredly saints. The first is Pope Bl. Pius IX, and the other is Pius XII. Let us examine a little bit about both men’s pontificates.
Pius IX (Giovanni Maria Mastai-Ferretti) is the longest reigning pope since St. Peter. His papacy began in June 1846, and ended with his death in February 1878. Pius IX has what I believe to be an unjustifiably bad reputation. His nickname is “Pio No-No”, due to his proclivity as pope to tell the people what they ought not to do. This may seem odd and harsh to the modern mind, but it was a natural reaction to the events of that time.
Pius IX reigned during a time of great turmoil in Europe. There were revolutions happening everywhere. Most especially in Italy, where there was an attempt to unite all the divided Italian states into one Italian nation. This included, of course, the Papal States.
I will not argue that Pope Bl. Pius IX took the best road in dealing with the unification of Italy. Personally, I think his reaction was a bad move. Pius was so irate at having the Papal States forcefully wrested from him, that he forbade any Catholic from participating in the new Italian government; even by voting! This reaction achieved nothing beneficial for the Church, or for Italian Catholics. This ban wasn’t lifted until the late 1920s.
Despite Pius’ rash reaction to Italian unification, his reaction to modernism is what really gives him a bad name. He wrote much in the way of condemning modernism and its basic tenets. This angered many who thought Pius IX was liberal, and would change Catholic Teaching to fit the ideas brought to the fore by the Enlightenment and modernism.
Although Bl. Pius IX is seen as a “social consrvative”, he is also seen as a great Church reformer. Perhaps his greatest reform was the convening of the First Vatican Council. It was this Council which formally proclaimed the infallibility of the Supreme Roman Pontiff (under certain conditions, of course) to be an article of faith which must be held by all the faithful.
This decree caused much controversy since it several bishops and cardinals taking part in the Council were against proclaiming papal infallibility. Perhaps the most famous “dissenter” on this point is Bl. John Henry Cardinal Newman. It is alleged Bl. John Newman was against the idea of papal infallibility, but this is incorrect. He acknowledged that the Church (including Newman himself) had long held to the idea of papal infallibility, at least in practice. Yet, Bl. John Henry Cardinal Newman opposed its proclamation because he feared it would further alienate Protestants.
Despite the objections of several prelates, the dogma of papal infallibility was proclaimed by the First Vatican Council, and it was ratified by Pope Bl. Pius IX. Far from being a bad thing, the proclamation of papal infallibility has helped to solidify Catholic Teaching, and aided the Church by centralizing its government. This was sorely needed in the 19th century.
Another wonderful thing for which Pius IX was responsible was the proclamation of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary in 1854. Pius was known for his deep devotion to the Blessed Mother. Although he proclaimed the Immaculate Conception on his own (without the aid of an ecumenical council), the Pope did not act entirely alone.
The Catholic faithful had been calling for such a proclamation for centuries. Although many theologians (St. Thomas Aquinas among them) had expressed their doubts about the Immaculate Conception, the faithful had always accepted it. Before his 1854 proclamation, Pius IX sent a letter to every bishop in the world to ask what their thoughts on proclaiming the Immaculate Conception an article of faith required to be held by all the faithful. The response was unanimous (or very nearly so) in favor of the proclamation. What’s more, the Virgin Mary Herself approved the proclamation four years later when she appeared to St. Bernadette Soubirous in Lourdes, France!
Besides his work for the Church, Pius IX deserves canonization for another reason. His holiness and simplicity of life were acknowledged even during his lifetime! Even his enemies had to acknowledge the personal holiness of Pope Bl. Pius IX. Why hasn’t he been canonized yet? Let’s get this train moving!
Pope Ven. Pius XII is another pope who has inexplicably been refused canonization, so far. I understand that Pius XII (Eugenio Pacelli) is a bit controversial, but it is quite easy to separate fact from fiction. Let us begin.
Until the a play in the early 1960s, there was no controversy surrounding Ven. Pius XII. He was seen for what he was: a very holy Pontiff. But the opponents of the Catholic Church (primarily the Bolsheviks in Russia) could not allow Pius XII to be seen as a hero after World War II. Pius was untouchable during his papacy (1939-58), so the Bolsheviks waited until he had been dead a few years to begin tarnishing this holy man’s name.
The main controversy surrounding Pope Ven. Pius XII is that he did not do enough to help save the Jews from the Nazis. It is claimed that Pius sat idly bye, watching as millions of Jews were exterminated by the Nazis. Some even claim that Pius XII actually supported and aided the Nazis in exterminating the Jews. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Before he was electec pope, Eugenio Cardinal Pacelli served as Secretary of State under his predecessor, Pope Pius XI. While in this position, Cardinal Pacelli negotiated a concordat with the new leader of Germany, Adolf Hitler. Pacelli was well-aware of what the Nazis taught, believed in, and intended to do. He did not trust the Nazis, and Cardinal Pacelli never expected them to hold to their promises.
The ink on the concordat with the Third Reich was barely dry before Hitler began breaking the agreement. Cardinal Pacelli did what he could to stop the Nazis. In fact, it was Cardinal Pacelli who was largely responsible for the writing of Pope Pius XI’s letter “Mit Brennender Sorge”.
“Mit Brennender Sorge” had been anticipated by Hitler, and he ordered it not to be allowed into Germany. The letter condemned the Nazis, and all of their activities against their opponents. Although the Nazis aren’t named in the letter, Hitler clearly understood its references. When “Mit Brennender Sorge” was smuggled into Germany and read from every Catholic pulpit in the country, Hitler began rounding up Catholics. This reaction was so stunningly violent, that even as pope, Eugenio Pacelli was careful with his public words against the Nazis. He didn’t want to cause the people of Germany anymore unnecessary hardship.
Yet, as pope, Pius XII continued to oppose the Nazis. He did this primarily by helping to hide Jews, or give them faux baptismal certificates. Pius XII’s father had been moderately wealthy. In fact, Pius’ father was one of the founders of the most popular newspaper to ever cover the papacy (L’Osservatore Romano). When Pius’ father died, Pius himself inherited a good deal of money. By the end of World War II, Pope Ven. Pius XII had spent his entire inheritance on helping to save the Jews.
The exact number of Jews saved by Pius’ efforts is not known, but he saved at least tens of thousands of Jews in Rome alone! In fact, Castel Gondolfo at one time contained more than 1000 hidden Jews. This is significant since Castel Gondolfo is the summer residence of the popes. Pius XII’s efforts to save the Jews was so great, in fact, that Rabbi Zolla (chief rabbi in Rome during World War II) converted to Catholicism when the war ended!
It is so sad that Pope Ven. Pius XII’s actions are not more generally acknowledged. We live in an age when information on virtually any topic is at our fingertips. Yet, so many are truly ignorant of the heroic actions of this great Pontiff. All one need do is go to the New York Times website, and look at the archives. It’s full of articles from World War II that speak of Pope Pius’ efforts to aid the Jews.
We need lookno further than Pope Ven. Pius XII’s first encyclical, “Summi Pontificatus”, to see just how opposed to the Nazis Pope Pius XII was. “Summi Pontificatus” was such a great condemnation of totalitarianism in all its forms that the Allies airdropped the encyclical into Germany. Now that’s a powerful encyclical!
What is the deal? Why have these two popes not been canonized? Is it because so many non-Catholics see them as controversial? So much the better! Is the Catholic Church so afraid of the “problems” that could be caused that it refuses to canonize these two popes?
One thing is for certain, bigots will be bigots. Those who hate the Church are going to hate it no matter what it does, or does not do. It is absolutely fantastic that the Church is canonizing Popes John XXIII and John Paul II. Yet these two popes are not without their controversies! I think canonizing Pius IX and Pius XII would be a great way for the Church to celebrate the true legacies of these two great Pontiffs!
Peace in Christ,
David J. Pollard
American Catholic Solidarity